Seven Years in Tibet

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Let me begin by saying that I love to travel.

I love the excitement of a new destination, the enchantment of a different culture, and the challenges of other languages and lifestyles. I have been to eight different countries (Not including layovers where I never left the airport), and I’ve loved each of them for very different reasons. Cambodia, Scotland, Portugal, they all have their own charms, their own varied cultures, their own histories and myths, people and traditions.

And I love it.

This book took me straight to the heart of Tibet, without the exorbitant price of a plane ticket.

Seven Years in Tibet is the true story of a Austrian prisoner of war during WWII. Heinrich Harrer was a part of a German expedition to the Himalayas when the war began, and he was put into an ‘intermittent’ camp to wait out the war. Not content to stay there, he escaped three times, finally making it over the mountains to Tibet.

And there he stayed. In Lhasa, the capitol city. For seven years.

His account of his time there, the nearly untouched culture of the Tibetan people, and the beauty of ‘the Roof of the World’ as he called it, is one of the most vivid, poignant pictures of Tibetan life in print. The detail that he put into this book, the personal experiences he had with the people, including the young Dalai Lama, his accounts of tradition, religion, and culture combine to make this book an incredible experience. Over and over again while I read this book, I had the feeling that I myself had been to Lhasa, that I’d seen the golden roofs of the Potala, eaten tsampa and drank yak-butter tea, and lived in the shadow of the snowy Himalayas.

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It was glorious. His descriptions of everything, from the way they prepare their food to the layout of the city itself, are minute and detailed. To someone who is more interested in a fast paced thriller than in catching a glimpse of this beautiful country, it might seem a little dull.

I devoured it and found myself wanting more.

Harrer was forced to leave Tibet when the Chinese occupied it in 1950. In the last chapter of his book, he declares, “Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for Tibet. I often think I can still hear the wild cries of geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they fly over Lhasa in the clear cold moonlight.”

By the time I finished reading Seven Years in Tibet, I was homesick for it too. Someday, maybe I’ll have a chance to visit it too. In person this time.

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